Lately, there’s been great interest in bento boxes in my (admittedly small but super fantastic) social circle. My dear friend the Lady Otter has put together some positively breathtaking lunches for herself.
Here’s a quick bento primer.
So, what’s a bento and why do you want one?
A bento box is a traditional Japanese lunchbox. It usually has a few little compartments to separate different parts of your meal. Most are between one and three stacks high.
Bentos are compact. You can stuff them with all manners of different things. They’re nicer to eat out of than a regular old tupperware. They make making your lunch fun.
What goes into one?
If you’re making a bento by the book, you pack it with a protein (meat, chicken, or fish), a starch (usually rice), and some kind of veggie matter. Great care and consideration is usually taken with the shapes of the food—and how they’re arranged. (There are rice molds, different shaped veggie cutters…more on all that some other time. There’s a whole Bento World out there.)
Honestly, though? Fill it with things you like.
This is one of my favorite topics, but I’ll keep it simple for today. Here are some of the neatest bento boxes I’ve seen online. (After all, if you’re going to pack yourself a bento every day, you need to have a proper bento box.)
Most bento boxes will come with a belly band to keep them closed. Many are not microwave safe, or only partially so (as in, you can only nuke the little containers inside the box, not the box itself), so check the details before you order.
Think of it as a bento for two. (Picnic, anyone?) The Pearl Butterfly Three Layer Lacquer Box is much larger than a normal bento, measuring 7 5/8″ long x 7 5/8″ wide x 6 3/4″ high.
It’s beautiful, but doesn’t include a band, so you’ll want to be careful if you’re toting it around. Available from Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen for $28.95, it also comes in the red and black Crane, Fan, and Blossom design. There’s also a very similar Black Fan design available from Buy 4 Asian Life for $13.99.
VeryAsia.com also sells this rather manly Hakoya Grey Silver Zen Bento Box for $13.95.
Bentos for kids (whether you’re actually 8-years-old, or just like to pretend sometimes)
This 2-tier Totoro bento is available online from JBox for $24.95. It measures 6.5″ long x 3″ wide x 3.25″ high. (Warning: JBox has a lot of great Japanese goods, including some more adult stuff.) If you’re not sure what Totoro is, he’s a giant Japanese forest spirit and star of Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful movie My Neighbor Totoro.
The 2-tier Shinzi Katoh Happy Good Luck Onigiri Bento Lunch Box says “Happy” on one side and “Good Luck” on the other. It’s 4.5″ long x 3.5″W wide x 4″ high and is available from Heliotrope Home for $18. Like this bento? Heliotrope Home sells a bunch of boxes with Shinzi Katoh’s designs.
The Animals in the Forest bento also comes from the happy folks at With Love from Japan. It’s only $5.95. I can’t find dimensions for this one, but wanted to list it because I liked it so much. I’m guessing it’s on the small size, since it’s so inexpensive.
That’s it for now. Much more on bentos and all the strange and wonderful things you can do with your food soon.